A gray and drizzly Saturday morning for the Santa Anita 5 K Run/Walk gave way to a hot and sunny Saturday afternoon for racing. This gorgeous day for thoroughbreds showcased some of the best in the biggest races across the country, with many horses vying for those coveted points towards the Kentucky Derby. Doug O’Neill Irap broke his maiden in a stakes race when he upset the Blue Grass at Keenland, at odds of 31 to 1. Irish War Cry rebounded from his last race to win the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. The Derby still seems up in the air but one other horse added to his points in the Santa Anita Derby, race 8 on this card.
In the 1st, Roy H and Edwin Maldonado were three deep down the hillside turf course but kicked away in the stretch at odds of 6 to 1. 6 to 1 shot, David’s Memory and Victor Espinoza edged out Doc Curlin and Mario Gutierrez for the place. The winning trifecta opened the day with a $286.90 payout.
Queen Laila, the odds on favorite, showed how its done as she and Rafael Bejarano ran away from the field in the stretch to win clear. 12 to 1 long shot, Just a Little Hope and Gary Stevens were second best, with 19 to 1 shot, My Party Girl, with Tyler Baze aboard, rounding out the order of finish.
Though he bobbled at the start, Who’s Hot, with Rafael Bejarano aboard, got the lead early and set the pace. The Gemologist colt drifted out in the stretch but kept on to win over Icy Street and Tyler Baze. The 15 to 1 shot, Who’s Hot paid $33.20 to win, and the exacta paid $150.10. With favorite, Buckys Pick and Norberto Arroyo Jr. coming in third, the trifecta paid $778.60.
The 4th race started the stakes races for the day – the Black Type Evening Jewel Stakes for Cal bred or Cal sired three-year-old fillies. The unraced S Y Sky surprised everyone by winning her debut in this stakes race, under an expert ride from Joseph Talamo. She stalked the pace on the backstretch then drew away in the stretch under urging. 18 to 1 shot, Radish and Mario Gutierrez came up late to get the place, edging out Miss Sunset and Edwin Maldonado, the favorites at the start. Very impressive win by S Y Sky and curious to see where this first time starter will be headed next.
Hillhouse High and Corey Nakatani pulled a 7 to 1 upset win in the 5th, the Royal
Heroine Stakes (Grade II). Harmonize and Junior Alvarado were the clear favorite at the break, however a late bid was not enough to beat out the top three finishers. Mokat, with Rafael Bejarano aboard, took the place, and Juno and Kent Desormeaux got the shot, both at 1o to 1 odds. Another nice winning trifecta of $635.50.
The Santa Anita Oaks (Grade 1 for three-year-old fillies), 6th race on the card, had a clear betting favorite and showcased some of the best up-and-coming fillies in the country. Abel Tasman, recently sent to trainer, Bob Baffert, was expected to put in a big race however she missed the start and, under jockey, Mike Smith, held back. Talk of the town, Paradise Woods and Flavien Prat took advantage of this and went straight to the lead, wiring the race to win clear of the field. Abel Tasman put in a late bid but could not catch the winner. It Tiz Well split horses, with Corey Nakatani aboard, and just got up to show.
18 to 1 long shot, Rockport Babe gave Chantal Sutherland a win in the 7th, when she fought back late to get up over rival, Mining Diamonds and Norberto Arroyo Jr. Favorite, Avicii and Flavien Prat got up for third. Avicii was claimed and will go to the barn of trainer, Peter Miller. Chantal’s winner paid $38.60 to those who had the winning ticket.
The 8th was the feature race on the card, the Santa Anita Derby (Grade 1). Some of the best three-year-olds showed up to try to claim 100 points towards the Kentucky Derby. Royal Mo and Gary Stevens sped to the front alongside American Anthem and Martin Garcia. Royal Mo kept up the pace but dropped back towards the wire to finish third. On the outside in the stretch, Sham Stakes winner, Gormley and Victor Espinoza gained a short lead over Battle of Midway and Corey Nakatani, just getting up at the wire. Gormley earned his 100 points and now has 125 total. Girvin, who won the Risen Star in February, tops the leader board with 150. Other promising horses like Reach the World and Iliad just didn’t have it on this day. Even American Anthem, who many hoped would rally, faded and was second to last.
The 9th race saw the return of undefeated Sircat Sally, who did not disappoint. The Surf Cat filly made it 5 for 5 as she was ridden clear by jockey, Mike Smith. You Missed It just got up for 2nd, under jockey, Mario Gutierrez, edging out Emphatically and Flavien Prat.
The 10th race saw long shot, Mr. Hinx and Tyler Baze gamely coming home to win, and favorite Calle Kingpin took the last race, the 11th, under Stewart Elliott.
One a few weeks remain until the 1st Saturday in May and the Kentucky Derby. Will Santa Anita’s Gormley prevail, will Girvin bring it home, will horses like McCracken or Irish War Cry strut their stuff? Who knows? Eagerly awaiting the final field and the post draws, but I’ll personally be cheering on Gormley!